Outbound Collective logo

What Election Results Mean for Public Lands & Waters (And What You Can Do Right Now)

Election day has come and gone, and while there’s no shortage of people prognosticating about the election’s fallout, we have some ideas about what the results mean for public lands and waters, recreation and conservation.

By: Outdoor Alliance + Save to a List

As you’re probably aware, Democrats won enough House races that they’ll control the House of Representatives in January; Republicans picked up at least two Senate seats and will solidify their control of the Senate.

With Democrats taking control of the House, the political dynamic in D.C. will shift dramatically. In the last Congress, Republicans controlled both chambers, and the only real opportunity for Democrats to exert influence was in the Senate, where many types of legislation require 60 votes for passage. Republicans, in other words, needed to negotiate, at least at times, with Senate Democrats, who retained at least a degree of influence and power. House Democrats were, for all intents and purposes, powerless.

Starting in January, Democrats will control the agenda in the House entirely. Expect that the White House will both feel compelled to negotiate with House Democrats, and also to look for opportunities to make them the villain. Control of the House means that Democrats will also now control the committee chairmanships, meaning that what legislation gets considered is up to them. From a public lands perspective, here’s what we are watching for: 

  • What’s the dynamic going to be like in the new Congress? With control divided, an acrimonious relationship between the political parties, and the certainty of a substantial number of investigations into the conduct of the Trump Administration, it’s very possible that Congress will not get a lot done. There’s also reason to expect, though, that there could well be a substantial amount of policy making happening at the same time as pointed public conflict. There are going to be some opportunities for positive legislation.

  • Expect that the most dire legislative threats—for example large-scale public lands transfers or sell-offs—will recede, with Republicans lacking the votes to push through their most extreme legislative proposals.

  • Investigations. There will be a lot of them, and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is likely to be the subject of some of them—for example, how he made his decisions surrounding the reductions to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments.

  • Cabinet turnover. After elections, there’s often a large shift in personal within an administration, and there’s reason to expect that trend will be especially pronounced with this one. There is a substantial chance that Sec. Zinke will move on, possibly sooner rather than later. We have reasons to be pessimistic about his replacement .

  • Political confirmations. With a stronger Republican majority in the Senate, the president will have an easier time getting appointees confirmed, possibly further fueling the trend toward cabinet turnover.

  • Judicial confirmations. This isn’t something we talk about a lot, but there will be a major push by Senate Republicans to confirm conservative judicial nominees. This is likely to have a very pronounced and long-lasting effect on environmental law and administrative law, with conservatives angling away from deference to land management agencies (and other agencies) in how they interpret the laws they are charged with administering.

  • Congressional pressure on agencies. With fewer outlets for advancing their agenda, expect Republicans in Congress to be more aggressively engaged in exerting influence over how agencies like the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Park Service manage our public lands.

When new members of Congress get into town, we’ll help you reach out to welcome them and share your outdoor priorities. But this Congress isn’t over yet...

Right now, while most people aren’t paying attention, is a crucial time for Congress to finally pass some bipartisan legislation that they’ve worked on the past two years. If enough people speak up, this year-end push could include a number of really positive, important bills for outdoor recreation, including reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, Recreation Not Red-Tape, public lands deferred maintenance funding, and a host of new protective designations. Please take a minute and drop your Congresscritters a line so they know outdoor recreation is a priority for the end of the years. This won’t happen without you.  

We’ve made this one easy for you, right here:

Here are the bills at stake at the end of the year:


We encourage you to check out our series of articles covering the new public land heist for more information.


Cover photo: Ben Canevari

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Do you love the outdoors?

Yep, us too. That's why we send you the best local adventures, stories, and expert advice, right to your inbox.


Outdoor-Inspired Cocktails for Every Season

Noël Russell

A golden happy hour on the California coast

Hannah Sibley

Make these camp cocktails on your next adventure

Ellen Clark

A 3-day road trip adventure in Western Rocky Mountain National Park

Nallely Bean